In battleground Surrey, infrastructure and policing take centre stage

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With just eight days until the B.C. provincial election, the seat-rich suburb of Surrey is shaping up to be one of the fiercest battles.

Surrey is home to nine of B.C.’s 87 ridings, with 32 candidates vying to win them.

It’s also among the fastest-growing cities in the province, with schools virtually bursting at the seams and an overtaxed medical system.

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“We’re not getting our fair share of infrastructure, and we need to see that,” Surrey city councillor and former BC Liberal MLA Brenda Locke said Friday.

The NDP have looked to leverage that complaint with a promise to complete the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain line, though details around how they will fund it remain unclear.

Both the BC NDP and the BC Liberals have also promised to complete a new hospital in Surrey, but Locke said voters have heard that before.

In fact, the hospital saga has been ongoing for close to 30 years, with land purchased for the development by Mike Harcourt’s NDP government, and no work completed by either party until the BC Liberals sold the land in 2014.

“They are looking at that with a jaundiced eye for sure,” Locke said.

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Education is another major issue for voters in the city, which has more than 70,000 students in the province’s largest school district.

A shortage of classrooms has thousands of students in 361 portables.

The NDP have promised to eliminate 350 of them by 2023, but made a similar promise in the 2017 election which has not been realized.

Kwantlen University political science professor Shinder Purewal said the party may still benefit from some goodwill for the progress on new school construction during their term.

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A new high school opened in Clayton Heights in 2018, and another high school and three other elementary schools are more than 70 per cent complete.

Two of those projects were approved under the BC Liberals and two under the BC NDP.

“At this point you don’t see much but the NDP certainly has started some movement on having new schools, adding more rooms,” Purewal said.

“In terms of having any impact on the portables, they brought in 102 more portables in the last three years.”

Purewal and Locke differ in their analysis of the third big issue facing Surrey voters this year: the transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force.

The BC Liberals made a splash earlier this month when they promised to hold a referendum on the switch amid polling that showed a large majority of residents now oppose transition.

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“If you drive around Surrey you’ll see there’s more keep the RCMP in Surrey signs than there is all the candidate signs together,” Locke said. “It’s number one.”

Purewal, on the other hand, believes the transition remains a municipal issue and not one that will drive voters’ decisions at the ballot box.

“People really think it’s a local issue, it was decided in 2018,” he said, referencing the role current Mayor Doug McCallum’s municipal election promise to dump the RCMP played on his sweeping win.

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The NDP currently hold six of the city’s nine seats and the Liberals three.

Of the nine, three will likely see the fiercest competition owing to their closer margins of victory in the 2017 election.

The NDP won Surrey-Guildford by 12.09 per cent in 2017, the Liberals took Surrey-Cloverdale by 9.4 per cent and the NDP captured Surrey-Panorama by 8.99 per cent.

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Surrey-Fleetwood will also be a riding to watch. While the NDP won there by nearly 17 per cent in 2017, the Liberals won it as recently as the 2013 provincial election, when it was held by former cabinet minister Peter Fassbender.

The BC Greens are not considered competitive in the city, turning in a region best of 16.18 per cent in Surrey-White Rock in 2017, and less than 10 per cent of the vote in five of the nine ridings.

— With files from Nadia Stewart

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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